The entire universe is classified under two heads – the Seer and the seen. Seer is Brahman and seen is the manifested universe or Brahman’s manifestation. Seer is Self-illuminating and because of Its Prakāśa (the principle of Self-revelation and by which everything else is known), we are able to see the world. Brahman is a very broad term and encompasses everything. In order to understand Brahman better, It (It is used to denote Brahman as It is beyond gender and there is no word to describe Brahman better than It) is classified into four categories depending upon its upādhi (that which is put in the place of another thing) or adjunct (something added to another thing but not an essential part of it) such as Brahman, Īśvara, kūṭastha and jīva.
Brahman has māyā as Its upādhi. But in the case of Īśvara, it is limited by māyā. What is the difference between Brahman and Īśvara, as both are associated with māyā? Māyā is upādhi to Brahman. In other words, māyā is superimposed on Brahman and cannot exist independent of Brahman. This is called upādhi. But in the case of Īśvara, it is limited by māyā and this limitation is known as viśeṣaṇa (distinguishing, discriminative, specifying, and qualifying; a word which particularizes or defines). Therefore, Māyā is the same, but functions as upādhi to Brahman and as viśeṣaṇa to Īśvara. Māyā as upādhi to Brahman is also known as Prakṛti. Brahman only remains as a witness or seer and every action unfolds only in Prakṛti. Prakṛti in its un-manifested form is called avyakta. This is the state of Prakṛti where all the three guṇa-s are found in equilibrium. Any change in this equilibrium of guṇa-s in Prakṛti leads to desire, wisdom and action. This in combination with ego and intellect give rise to further creation. Therefore, Prakṛti is the root of all creations. Chāndogya Upaniṣad VI.ii.3 says “The Existence (the Brahman) decided, I shall be many, which refers to Prakṛti. Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (I.i.8) also confirms the above statements of Katha Upaniṣad and Chāndogya Upaniṣad. It says, “Brahman grows by penance.” Whatever be the sayings of the scriptures, the root of creation is prakṛti on whom Brahman depends extensively to create and sustain the universe.
If we take both Brahman and Īśvara, both of them are only seers and do not act by themselves. Both have Māyā; in Brahman as upādhi and in Īśvara as viśeṣaṇa. Upādhi can be separated from Brahman as it is external in nature and only a superimposition. But viśeṣaṇa cannot be separated from Īśvara as it forms integral part of Īśvara. Like Brahman and Īśvara who are differentiated with reference to Māyā, Kūṭastha (multitude) and jīva are differentiated with reference to avidyā. Avidyā (innate spiritual ignorance) acts as an adjunct (upādhi) to Kūṭastha, whereas in the case of jīva, it acts as viśeṣaṇa in the case of jīva.
What is the difference between Brahman and Īśvara? Brahman is Saccidānanda (sat-cit-ānanda), as described in Upaniṣad-s; Tattvabodha says, “evam saccidānanda svarūpaṁ ātmānaṁ vijānīyāt”. Thus, one should know himself as the nature of existence-consciousness-bliss). Īśvara on the other hand is Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient. Brahman is the cause of the universe and beyond perception. Brahman is Nirguṇa Brahman and Īśvara is Saguṇa Brahman or Brahman with attributes. It rules the universe. In understandable terms, Brahman can be called Paramaśiva and Īśvara can be called as Śiva. Māyā is superimposed on Paramaśiva and in the case of Īśvara, Māyā is an integral part, the stage of Śiva-Śakti union.
What is the difference between Kūṭastha and jīva? Kūṭastha is the Soul, which is immovable amongst the countless body, mind combination. On the other hand, jīva is an individual and many in number like Kūṭastha. Both Kūṭastha and jīva have adjuncts or upādhi. We call this jīva as the Self. Kūṭastha is the supporting consciousness in all the jīva-s and therefore Kūṭastha is also many like multitude of jīva-s. Kūṭastha and jīva are identified on the basis of avidyā. In Kūṭastha, avidyā is upādhi and for jīva, avidyā is viśeṣaṇa. In all the four discussed above, Brahman is always present, but in the case of last three, either due to upādhi or viśeṣaṇa, Brahman’s true nature is veiled. Removing this veil is the path of Self-realization.
(more to come)